Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Getting Harassing Calls? Here is What You Need to Know"

"Getting Harassing Calls? Here is What You Need to Know"

"Obscene or harassing phone calls can be one of the most stressful and frightening invasions of privacy a person experiences. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help put an end to these unwelcome intrusions.

What makes a phone call harassing? When someone calls and uses obscene or threatening language, or even heavy breathing or silence to intimidate you, you are receiving a harassing call. It is against the law in California and other states to make obscene or threatening calls. (California Penal Code section 653m, Penal Code section 422-422.1)

How often do I have to get these calls to make it harassment? Just one unwelcome call can be harassing; but usually your local phone company will not take action unless the calls are frequent. However, if a call specifically threatens you or your family with bodily harm, the phone company will generally take immediate action.

Who should I contact when I get harassing calls? Local phone companies have varying policies on whether to call the phone company or the police first. Some recommend that you first call the phone company's business office and explain the problem. A representative will connect you with the "annoyance desk." Other phone companies may require you to file a formal complaint with local law enforcement before they will deal with the matter. To find out what your phone company's policy is, contact the business office and ask for assistance.

For serious threats, if life or property are threatened, or if calls are obscene, you should call the police and file a report. Provide as much information to law enforcement as you can. Indicate the gender of the caller and describe the caller's voice. Note the time and date of the call(s). What did the caller say? How old did he/she sound? Did the caller seem intoxicated? Did he/she have an accent or speech impediment? Was there any background noise? Was a phone number/name displayed on the Caller ID device?

What can my local phone company do if I am receiving harassing calls? If the calls are frequent or particularly threatening, the phone company can set up a "Trap" on your phone line. The Trap allows the phone company to determine the telephone number from which the harassing calls originate. You must keep a log noting the time and date the harassing calls are received. Traps are usually set up for no more than two weeks. The phone company does not charge a fee for Traps.

A phone company service called Call Trace may also be able to help track down harassing calls. Immediately after receiving a harassing call, you enter the code *57 on your phone and the call is automatically traced (1157 on rotary phones). Call Trace is easier than using a Trap since the customer does not have to keep a phone log. But Call Trace technology works only within the local service area. (Look in the "Customer Guide" section of the phone book or the phone company's web site for a description of your local service area.)

Call Trace must be set up in advance by the individual receiving harassing calls, and it requires a fee for use. However, in situations where the phone company would ordinarily use a Trap, you might not be charged if the phone company suggests that Call Trace be used as an alternative. Be sure to ask. The information collected from Call Trace or from a Trap is turned over to law enforcement personnel, not the customer. Law enforcement officers try to stop the harassing calls by either warning or arresting the harasser. With both Call Trace and a Trap, your phone conversations are not listened to or recorded by the phone company.

Is the phone company always able to solve harassing phone call problems? No. If the caller uses a phone booth or multiple phone lines, the phone company and law enforcement officials may never get enough identification to take further action. In cases like these, changing your phone number might help. Also, you might want to get an unlisted or unpublished number. In addition, the tips listed below for discouraging other types of unwanted calls may be of help.

What can I do to stop harassing calls without going to the phone company or police? First, simply hang up on the caller. Do not engage in conversation. Typical crank callers are seeking attention. You have "made their day" if you say something to them or express shock or anger.

If the silent treatment does not work, you might try putting a message like this on your voice mail system: "I'm sorry I/we can't come to the phone right now but you must leave a message. I/we are receiving annoyance calls and the phone company has a trap on this line. If you do not leave a message I/we will assume that you are the annoyance caller and this call will be traced."

If you answer the phone and the harassing caller is on the line, another suggestion is to say: "Operator, this is the call." Then hang up. Or say the word "trap," what time it is and the date; then hang up.

What is the "pressure valve" strategy? Some threatening calls are part of a larger pattern of abuse, such as stalking. Some experts recommend in these situations to get a new phone number, but keep the phone number being called by the harasser and attach a voice mail machine or message service to that line. Turn the phone's ringer off and don't use that phone line for anything other than capturing the calls of the harasser.

This is the pressure valve strategy. The harasser will continue to call the unused number and will think that he/she is getting through. Instead, you are simply using the number to gather evidence. You will want to save tape recordings of the calls.Get another phone number for your use, and be sure it's unlisted and unpublished. Give the number to trusted friends and relatives only. Do not give it to your bank, credit card company or credit bureau. Put passwords on all of your phone accounts (local, long distance, and mobile). Tell the phone companies in writing that they must not disclose any account information to anyone but yourself, and only when the correct password is given.

What precautions can I take to prevent harassment?

• Do not disclose personal information when called by someone you do not know. They might be checking out the residence for possible robbery or other crime. If the caller asks what number they have called, do not give it. Instead, ask them to tell you what number they dialed.

• To prevent being targeted for obscene calls and heavy breathing, women should only list their first initial and last name in the phone directory. Having an unlisted number is another option.

• Children should be instructed to never reveal information to unknown callers. Instead, they should be taught to record the caller's name and phone number along with date and time.

• Do not include your telephone number on the outgoing message of your voice mail service if you wish to keep your number private. By omitting your phone number from your message, you prevent random dialers from capturing this information."

I highly recommend you consider this free service: "Google Voice"

"Google Voice (formerly GrandCentral) is a telecommunications service by Google launched on March 11, 2009. The service provisions a U.S. phone number, chosen by the user from available numbers in selected area codes, free of charge to each user account. Inbound calls to this number are forwarded to other phone numbers of the subscriber. Outbound calls may be placed to domestic and international destinations by dialing the Google Voice number or from a web-based application. Inbound and domestic outbound calls (including calls to Canada, Alaska and Hawaii) are free of charge, while international calls are billed according to a schedule posted on the Google Voice website.

The service is configured and maintained by the user in a web-based application, styled after Google's e-mail service, Gmail. Users must have an established U.S. telephone service to activate Google Voice. Users must configure this and optionally, additional phone numbers that ring simultaneously when the Google Voice number receives a call. The user may answer and receive the call on any of the ringing phones. Google Voice provides additional features such as voicemail, call history, conference calling, call screening, blocking of unwanted calls, and voice transcription to text of voicemail messages. Received calls may be moved between configured telephones during a call."


"Science may have found a cure for most evils,
but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all-
the apathy of human beings."

- Author Unknown

Henry Makow Ph.D., "How's Your Inner Beggar?"

"How's Your Inner Beggar?"
by Henry Makow Ph.D.

"This being the weekend I am reflecting on the timeless question of human happiness. What do people want? Simple creatures, we want to feel good. If you can make other people feel good, they'll love you. But how many of us bother? We are too busy trying to make them make us feel good. We are feel good addicts, hoping to wring our happiness from the world. Food, drink, drugs, sex, money, power, love.

In "The Power of Now," Eckhard Tolle has a story about a beggar who asks a stranger for money. The stranger tells the beggar to look under his seat. Turns out there was gold there all along. The message is "the kingdom of heaven lies within" i.e. in the soul. Tolle's theory, based on Raja Yoga, is that we are souls, not minds. But we falsely identify with the mind, the voice in our head. This is the voice of the ego. We are all beggars saying, "I want."

I want corrupt politicians to be punished. I want the world to be just. I want my stocks to go up. I want to be noticed. I want my boss to praise me. I want to make a big sale. I want my spouse to be sweet. I want people to write on my Facebook wall. I want someone to put something in my cup.

Tolle's theory is that the ego has no permanent existence. After all, we die. But throughout our lives, our ego tries in vain to assert its existence. In order to feel good, everyday, it needs a cocktail of money, love, sex, recognition and power, or you name it. This is why so many rich people are so stingy. They are their money. If they give it away, they are diminished. This is why people cling to discredited ideas. They are their opinions. The ego can never be satisfied. No matter how much is stuffed into its cup, it wants more. "Enough is a little more than what one has," Samuel Butler said.

So the deal is: we should identify with what is eternal and permanent, i.e. our souls which unite us with the universal soul, "God" or "Being", infusing all life. According to the mystics, we can access this spiritual dimension, where truth and love are self evident, by meditation and prayer. By switching our identity to the observer, which witnesses thought as something foreign to our real spiritual identity, we bring the power of God into our hearts. The ego-mind becomes a calculator at best, a boorish intruder at worst.

Tolle teaches his followers to be still and live in the present; empty their minds and unwrap the lollipop at the core of their being. Because of Eckhard Tolle, a lot of people are walking around with a blissed out expression. They see themselves as channeling God. They view Christ in these terms. Some people can be in the world but not of it. Others tune out the world completely.

I favor a balance between ego and spirit. Mystics speaking of acedia , a spiritual dryness or boredom that comes from detaching from the world but not being able to connect to God. It's a kind of limbo. Waiting for Grace. The ego has legitimate needs (they are our needs) and often it is easier to satisfy them than starve them and hope they will go away. Love, sex, respect, money are examples. The ego also has legitimate satisfactions. For example, a job well done. A well deserved promotion. Figuring out a difficult problem. Cleaning out the garage. Making someone else's day. A good run or work out.

Lucky is the person who can enjoy himself; the person who has many private pleasures: Jazz, Victorian literature, bird watching, knitting, sports, (add yours here) ... I'd like to hear what makes you happy? Is the beggar-ego-mind analogy useful? Please be concise.

I've said to my wife, "Nobody ever calls unless they want something." Of course, this isn't true of everyone. But recently, I was having a nap on a lazy Saturday afternoon when my fax line rang. No fax came in but every few minutes ... a nagging ring. Finally my phone line rang. I answered it. It was a politician I had supported financially 20 years ago. Hadn't spoken to him since. Haven't been involved in mainstream politics either. Well, it seems that he had incurred a large campaign debt in the interim. The lender was going to forgive it but had died first. Now his estate was suing the politician for his house. At this time, the politician somehow remembered a large cheque I had written in 1988, when I was flush with Scruples money. Could I find it in my heart? The audacity! I would have told him to go to hell but I felt sorry for him. His judgment was impaired. So I let him down politely.

Known as the "Newton of Sociology," the "Father of Socio Dynamics" is a real cynic. Here are his four laws:

1. We are attracted/nice to people who can offer us something.
2. We are repelled by people who want something from us.
3. We are indifferent to people from whom we want nothing and vice-versa.
4. Sometimes, we are nice to people in case we may want something in the future.

Is there any truth to these laws?

I have a friend who is on cordial terms with an ex-wife. She had the audacity to ask him to co-sign a mortgage for $250,000 on an condo investment she had made. She was going to lose her down payment. "Could he find it in his heart?" Like the politician, she was desperate. She didn't consult my friend when making this investment, or offer to cut him in. But she expected him to bail her out.

Chutzpah- you don't have to be Jewish. Panhandlers - they appeal to our compassion but they don't give a damn about us. To end on a less cynical note, it's a blessing to find a pure and worthy cause. Sometimes we happen upon someone who is genuinely good, and take a shine to him or her. (If we are lucky, they include our children.) There is nothing in it for us but the satisfaction of giving."

Albert Einstein

"He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead; his eyes are closed."
- Albert Einstein

Arthur Schopenhauer

“All great truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
- Arthur Schopenhauer

The Daily "Near You?"

Greenfield, Massachusetts, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Peter Schiff, "Hair of the Dog"

"Hair of the Dog"
by Peter Schiff

"The GDP numbers out yesterday, which showed economic growth at 3.5% in the third quarter, brought a deafening chorus from public and private economists who all agreed that the recession is officially over. With such a strong report, they are happy to tell us that not only has the Fat Lady finished her aria, but she has left the building and is sipping champagne in the bath. As usual, it falls on me to rain on the parade.

Even the giddiest commentators admit that the upside GDP surprise resulted almost entirely from government interventions. But, by pushing up public and private debt, expanding government, deepening trade deficits, and pushing down savings rates, these interventions have succeeded only in putting our economy back on an unsustainable path of borrowing and spending. Accordingly, they have prevented the rebalancing necessary for long-term health. Could there be a simpler illustration of trading long-term pain for short-term gain?

Rather than asking these pre-K economists to make such a three dimensional leap, it may be easier just to give them a brief history lesson.

During the decade that corresponds to the Great Depression, annual GNP expanded for six years and contracted for four. After nose-diving in the early years of the decade, GNP turned positive in 1934 and then logged three more years of solid growth (the four year average annual growth rate was 8.5%). But does anyone really believe the Great Depression ended in 1934, when the economy first stopped contracting? Unemployment reached 19% in 1938, nearly the peak of the entire Depression, almost a full decade after the stock market crashed! Why will we be so much luckier this time around?

The unpopular truth is that rather than curing the economy, government stimulus has made it sicker. The Bush Administration and the Greenspan Fed pursued this policy recipe in the 2002-2003 recession. The result was four years of phony growth, greater global imbalances, and the development of unsupportable asset bubbles. Clearly we have learned nothing from those mistakes.

Third quarter 'growth' was largely driven by a 23% increase in residential construction (the largest quarterly increase since 1986) and a 3.1% increase in consumer spending, which included a 22% jump in durable goods purchases – mostly automobiles – and 2.3% gain in government spending. Since the increase in consumption outpaced the increase in production, the trade deficit expanded, reversing the positive trend for most of 2008 and 2009. Because the increase in spending outpaced the increase in incomes, the savings rate plunged from 4.9% in the prior quarter to 3.3%.

The sizzling numbers for housing and autos resulted from heady cocktail of policy stimulants: near-zero interest rates, government-guaranteed mortgages, Federal Reserve purchases of mortgaged-backed securities, tax credits for homebuyers, bailouts for auto finance companies and 'cash for clunkers' for car buyers.

But the last thing our economy needs is for scarce resources to be wasted through uneconomical incentives.

If the government were not 'stimulating the economy,' higher interest rates and falling home prices would have hamstrung residential construction. That would have been the right move. Instead, based on the false economic signals of the 'stimulus,' we continue to build houses for which no legitimate demand exists.

The same is true for cars. Because of stimulus money, Americans are buying cars that they otherwise would not have. In a free market, the money would have been used for a more constructive purpose. Perhaps it would have been saved, used to pay off existing debt, or spent on a less expensive mode of transport, like a used motorcycle.

The economy ran into a wall in 2008 because consumers bought houses and cars that they really could not afford. That is why the institutions that provided the loans, such as banks, Fannie & Freddie, and GMAC, went bankrupt. It should be obvious that the solution to our economic problems will not be found by redoubling these efforts. This is akin to a drunk having a few more drinks in order to get sober!

A recent article in the "Wall Street Journal" detailed the myriad ways in which Senators and Congressman are now compelling General Motors to make business decisions that are solely driven by the legislators' own political considerations, not the best interest of the taxpayers who now own the company. Such a dynamic is now underway in nearly every facet of our economy. An efficient allocation of resources – the only path to economic growth – is only possible when market forces, not Beltway bureaucrats, call the shots.

In the end, this stimulus, just like prior doses, will only worsen the condition it is meant to cure. When it wears off, the resulting recession will be even bigger than the one that everyone assumes has just ended. Until the impulse to fight recessions with government stimulus is quashed, genuine economic growth will never return. A string of ever-worsening recessions will eventually lead to what will be the next Great (Inflationary) Depression. But for now, enjoy the bubbly."

"What Are US Troops Dying For in Afghanistan?"

"What Are US Troops Dying For in Afghanistan?"
by Bill Van Auken
"At least 21 US soldiers and Marines have been killed in Afghanistan since last weekend, making October the bloodiest month for US forces since they invaded the country eight years ago. Still more have been wounded by roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

Among those killed in the last several days was a 24-year-old California mother of two young daughters, Sgt. Eduviges Wolf, who died of wounds suffered when her vehicle was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade in Kunar province.

Devin Michel, a 19-year-old Army private, little more than a year out of high school in Stockton, Illinois, was killed by a roadside bomb in Zhari province.

Gregory Fleury, a 23-year-old Marine corporal, lost his life in one of the three helicopter crashes on Sunday. The Anchorage Daily News quoted his grandfather as saying that, after serving two tours in Iraq, Fleury was set to end his active duty, but "the government extended his service" for deployment to Afghanistan. He had been scheduled to come home in early November.

The escalation of the war, which President Barack Obama is expected to announce soon, will only drive up casualties, as tens of thousands of additional soldiers and Marines are sent into Afghanistan to suppress popular resistance to foreign occupation.

What are these sacrifices for? Why are young American men and women being sent seven-and-a-half thousand miles from US shores to face horrible deaths and to carry out brutal repression against a population that does not want them there?

These questions are posed all the more sharply by the revelation that the US Central Intelligence Agency has kept President Hamid Karzai's brother, a reputed kingpin in Afghanistan's multibillion-dollar drug trade, on its payroll for the last eight years. The CIA's ties with Ahmed Wali Karzai raise "significant questions about America's war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House," the "New York Times" said Wednesday in reporting the connection. This is putting it rather delicately. The ties between the Karzai brothers and the CIA are a further demonstration that "America's war strategy" is a criminal enterprise pursued by criminal methods.

The newspaper describes a highly intimate relationship between the CIA and Ahmed Wali Karzai, who helped found a paramilitary outfit known as the Kandahar Strike Force that "operates at the CIA's direction" in carrying out assassinations of suspected "insurgents." CIA special operations agents, meanwhile, utilize compounds provided by Karzai as bases for their own operations in the south of the country.

According to the "Times," military officers and other American officials say that "Mr. Karzai's suspected role in the drug trade, as well as what they describe as the mafia-like way that he lords over southern Afghanistan, makes him a malevolent force." Nonetheless, he remains one of Washington's key assets in the country.

Afghanistan currently supplies 90 percent of the world's heroin. Since the US invasion of the country, opium production has increased by more than 300 percent.*

CIA ties to drug trafficking are longstanding. Before 1979, there was no large-scale poppy cultivation or any production of heroin in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These countries became the center of world heroin production as a byproduct of the CIA's fomenting of a war by Islamist mujahedin against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. While the US poured in billions of dollars in money and arms to fuel this war, drugs provided a major supplementary funding source for the CIA-backed guerrillas.

In the 1980s war against Nicaragua, the shipment of cocaine into the US provided resources for the CIA-backed contras at a time when the US Congress had cut off funding. And in the Vietnam War, the CIA allied itself with heroin trafficking warlords in Laos who exploited the US troops as a market.

In all of these wars, US intervention has produced death, destruction and social degradation, including the proliferation of drug production and consumption. An inevitable byproduct of the ongoing intervention in Afghanistan will be a steady rise in heroin addiction in the US and around the world.

Are US troops dying to keep in power a government dominated by drug-trafficking warlords? Will more be killed in the coming month to protect another fraudulent election aimed at lending a façade of legitimacy to this regime? So it would seem. But the Karzais and their warlord allies are puppets of US policy, used by Washington as merely a means to an end.

The end itself is patently not the furthering of "democracy." Nor are 100,000 US and NATO troops fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, where military officials admit there are no more than 100 Al Qaeda members.

The real objectives of this war were spelled out in fairly candid terms in an article published last year in the magazine of the US Army War College by Dr. Stephen Blank, the college's professor of National Security Studies. Entitled "The Strategic Importance of Central Asia: An American View," the article wastes little time on the pretexts of combating Al Qaeda or building democracy in Afghanistan. Blank argues that the US is pursuing an "open door" policy in Central Asia "for American firms seeking energy exploration, refining, and marketing." US policy, he says, is aimed at "the prevention of a Russian energy monopoly" in Central Asia or the region's domination by China. It also seeks to isolate Iran, another potential regional rival.

"Not surprisingly," Blank continues "the leitmotif of US energy policy has been focused on fostering the development of multiple pipelines and links to foreign consumers and producers of energy" that bypass the control of these regional rivals. Among the most important of these, he writes, is the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline, which would pump oil and natural gas out of Central Asia across the territory now occupied by US troops.

It would appear from this paper that, while soldiers and Marines are told that they are fighting and dying for democracy or to end terrorism, at least the US Army's rising senior officers are being given a more concrete objective.

The American military is fighting in Afghanistan as part of a 21st century version of the "Great Game," in which US imperialism is seeking to dominate Central Asia and its energy resources at the expense of its strategic rivals. There is no doubt that the Obama administration will continue to pursue these aims through an escalation of the Afghan war.

The costs of this war, now pegged at $3.6 billion a month, will rise even higher with the deployment of more troops, and will be paid by working people in the US through attacks on their living standards and basic social benefits. The death and maiming of American soldiers and Marines will escalate, along with the slaughter of both Afghan and Pakistani civilians.

The interests of the working class in the US and internationally stand opposed to those being pursued through the killing and dying in the so-called AfPak war. Working people must demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all American and foreign troops from the region and an end to the drive for imperialist domination in Central Asia."

* I wonder where all that heroin and opium will wind up?
What country is the world's biggest drug consumer?
And I'm sure the nice oil companies will lower prices once their pipelines are built, right?

George Carlin

"If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to
say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little."
- George Carlin

Astrophysics: "Mysterious Haze at Galaxy’s Center"

"Mysterious Haze at Galaxy’s Center"
By Dennis Overbye

"In the latest episode of their continuing efforts to embrace and understand the dark side of creation, astronomers sifting data from a new satellite say they have discerned the existence of a mysterious haze of high-energy particles surrounding the center of the Milky Way galaxy. (Click image, right, for very large size.) Nobody knows where the particles came from, and the five astronomers who posted their results online on Monday did not offer a formal opinion. But one tantalizing prospect, they admit, is that the particles are the decayed remains of the long-sought dark matter that constitutes 25 percent of the universe. “Obviously we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it could be dark matter,” said one of the authors, Douglas Finkbeiner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. If true, it would mean that astronomy has finally entered the realm of seeing the unseeable.

The identity of this dark matter, presumably exotic elementary particles left over from the Big Bang, is one of the biggest mysteries in physics. Other experts, however, say it is far too soon to draw such far-reaching conclusions based on signals from the confused and energetic environs of the galactic center. “In my opinion, they are skating on very thin ice,” said Eliott Bloom of Stanford, a member of the team running NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, which recorded the signals. And indeed, promising signals of dark matter from an alphabet soup of cosmic observing satellites and balloons have popped up in recent months and then disappeared.

Nevertheless, the new paper — by Gregory Dobler of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, Calif., and four other physicists from Harvard and New York University — has created a buzz among astrophysicists and is sure to be discussed next week at a conference in Washington on results from the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope.

At issue is the origin of a haze of gamma rays surrounding the center of our galaxy, which does not appear connected to any normal astrophysical cause but matches up with a puzzling cloud of radio waves, a “microwave haze,” discovered previously by NASA’s WMAP satellite around the center. Both the gamma rays and the microwaves, Dr. Dobler and his colleagues argue, could be caused by the same thing: a cloud of energetic electrons. The electrons could, in turn, be the result of decaying dark matter, but that, they said, is an argument they will make in a future paper.

In an e-mail message, one of the authors, Neal Weiner of N.Y.U., explained, “It seemed it was important to have a less controversial first paper,” just establishing the electron cloud. Gordon Kane, a particle physicist at the University of Michigan, called the present paper a solid result, adding, “They have demonstrated they know how to use the Fermi data.” But Dr. Bloom said the authors were going too fast. “The galactic center is the Hells Kitchen of astrophysical forces,” he said, borrowing a phrase from a recent talk by his French colleague Johann Coehn-Tanugi of Laboratoire de Physique Théorique et Astrophysique, and the University Montpellier. Separating the potential dark matter signal from the astronomical background sources could take years, Dr. Bloom said, especially as the new Fermi satellite adds to the list.

The center of the galaxy, being the center of the local cosmos, is filled with all kinds of high-energy objects, like a giant black hole millions of times more massive than the Sun, the whirly-gig beams of pulsars, exploding stars and their remains. Cosmological calculations indicate that it should also be full of dark matter particles, whose clumps form the gravitational scaffolding for the thin film of visible matter in the universe. According to many models of dark matter, such particles, when they meet, can annihilate one another in a flash of energy, which would add to the cacophony from the center.

So astronomers have had their antennae out looking for suspicious signals from the sky. One of them was the microwave haze discovered earlier by the WMAP satellite. Dr. Finkbeiner and his colleagues had argued that the haze could be produced by energetic electrons and positrons — their antimatter opposites — whirling around in the Milky Way’s magnetic field. If such electrons existed, they should also produce gamma rays when starlight bounced off them and, thus, show up in the Fermi data. As they approached the data, Dr. Finkbeiner said, “we had some trepidation.”

Indeed, when all the known sources of gamma rays were erased from Fermi observations of the Milky Way center, they were left with a blob of radiation, about 12,000 light-years across, matching the microwave haze exactly. The existence of this new gamma ray haze, they say in their paper, settles the question of the origin of the microwave haze, although others like Dr. Bloom disagree. And the question of whether and how these clouds are connected to dark matter is yet to be fought out.

In a model of dark matter recently proposed by Dr. Weiner and others, there is a “dark force” as well as a dark particle; when the dark particles crash into one another, they first produce the carriers of this force, which then decay after thousands or millions of years into the electrons and positrons creating these observed clouds. But Dr. Kane favors a simpler view — namely that dark matter particles decay directly into gamma rays. Dr. Finkbeiner said Dr. Kane’s predictions also fit the gamma ray cloud very well. “Kane’s prediction is freakishly similar to what we are seeing.” But, he admitted, a simple adjustment in models of what kinds of electrons are produced by pulsars could also change the results.

Dr. Bloom said that with all the confusion and uncertainty, it was easy to be misled. “Depending on what the part of the elephant you’re feeling,” he said, “you can have very different models that fit part of what you’re looking at. We need more data and time to make this work,” he said about Fermi and the quest for dark matter. “It is not something that will come easily.”

Neuroscience: "Junk Food as 'Addictive as Drugs'"

"Junk Food as 'Addictive as Drugs'"
by "Telegraph" Staff

"Junk food is almost as addictive as heroin, scientists have found. A diet of burgers, chips, sausages and cake will program your brain into craving even more foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat, according to new research. Over the years these junk foods can become a substitute for happiness and will lead bingers to become addicted.

Dr Paul Kenny, a neuroscientist, carried out the research which shows how dangerous high fat and high sugar foods can be to our health . "You lose control. It's the hallmark of addiction," he said. The researchers believe it is one of the first studies to suggest brains may react in the same way to junk food as they do to drugs. "This is the most complete evidence to date that suggests obesity and drug addiction have common neuro-biological foundations," said Paul Johnson, Dr Kenny's work colleague.

Dr Kenny, who began his research at Guy's Hospital, London, but now works at Florida's Scripps Research Institute, divided rats into three groups for his research, due to be published in the US soon. One got normal amounts of healthy food to eat. Another lot was given restricted amounts of junk food and the third group was given unlimited amounts of junk, including cheesecake, fatty meat products, and cheap sponge cakes and chocolate snacks.

There were no adverse effects on the first two groups, but the rats who ate as much junk food as they wanted quickly became very fat and started bingeing. When researchers electronically stimulated the part of the brain that feels pleasure, they found that the rats on unlimited junk food needed more and more stimulation to register the same level of pleasure as the animals on healthier diets."

"How It Really Is"

Jane Rubietta

"Someone may have stolen your dream when it was young and fresh
and you were innocent. Anger is natural. Grief is appropriate.
Healing is mandatory. Restoration is possible."
- Jane Rubietta

Matt Taibbi, "Forget Galleon: What about Goldman’s ex-boss?"

"Forget Galleon: What About Goldman’s Ex-boss?"
by Matt Taibbi

"In the months leading up to the September 2008 collapse of giant insurer American International Group Inc., Elias Habayeb and his colleagues worked nights and weekends negotiating with banks that had bought $62 billion of credit-default swaps from AIG, according to a person who has worked with Habayeb. Habayeb, 37, was chief financial officer for the AIG division that oversaw AIG Financial Products, the unit that had sold the swaps to the banks. One of his goals was to persuade the banks to accept discounts of as much as 40 cents on the dollar, according to people familiar with the matter.

Among AIG’s bank counterparties were New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co., Paris-based Societe Generale SA and Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG.

By Sept. 16, 2008, AIG, once the world’s largest insurer, was running out of cash, and the U.S. government stepped in with a rescue plan. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the regional Fed office with special responsibility for Wall Street, opened an $85 billion credit line for New York-based AIG. That bought it 77.9 percent of AIG and effective control of the insurer. The government’s commitment to AIG through credit facilities and investments would eventually add up to $182.3 billion.

Beginning late in the week of Nov. 3, the New York Fed, led by President Timothy Geithner, took over negotiations with the banks from AIG, together with the Treasury Department and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s Federal Reserve. Geithner’s team circulated a draft term sheet outlining how the New York Fed wanted to deal with the swaps -- insurance-like contracts that backed soured collateralized-debt obligations." *

"The deal contributed to the more than $14 billion that over 18 months was handed to Goldman Sachs, whose former chairman, Stephen Friedman, was chairman of the board of directors of the New York Fed when the decision was made. Friedman, 71, resigned in May, days after it was disclosed by the Wall Street Journal that he had bought more than 50,000 shares of Goldman Sachs stock following the takeover of AIG. He declined to comment for this article. In his resignation letter, Friedman said his continued role as chairman had been mischaracterized as improper. Goldman Sachs spokesman Michael DuVally declined to comment.

AIG paid Societe General $16.5 billion, Deutsche Bank $8.5 billion and Merrill Lynch $6.2 billion. It’s kind of amazing that with all the uproar over the Galleon business, nobody is making much hay over the recent revelations about the AIG bailouts, which make former Goldman chief and former New York Fed chairman Stephen Friedman look every bit as guilty of insider machinations as Raj Rajaratnam of the Galleon fund.

It’s impossible to grasp the totality of Friedman/Goldman’s grossness with regard to the AIG story without a little context. Remember the basic timeline. In the middle of the mortgage bubble, Goldman Sachs found a patsy-buffoon named Joe Cassano at a little corner of AIG called AIG Financial Products, or AIGFP. Cassano was recklessly writing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of credit default swaps for banks like Goldman and Deutsche, essentially insuring certain investments for these banks, including extremely risky mortgage-backed deals.

Goldman took out billions of these CDS positions with Cassano, who had written upwards of $440 billion of these CDS without having even a fraction of the money he would have needed to cover that bet in the event of a disaster of the type that actually ended up taking place, specifically a downgrade of AIG’s credit rating that forced Cassano to pony up wads of cash to cover those positions.

The important thing to remember about all of this is that just because Goldman was buying “insurance” from Cassano, that doesn’t mean they were being responsible. On the contrary: Goldman was creating well over ten billion dollars worth of exposure to a guy that they must have known was an absolute idiot. Now, in a world where actual capitalism existed, Goldman should then have been highly invested in making sure that AIG did not go under. A dead and bankrupt AIG should not have been good news to a company like Goldman Sachs, which had billions of dollars riding on AIG’s financial health.

But if anything Goldman behaved throughout the runup to AIG’s collapse like it couldn’t care less if the company died. In fact Goldman accelerated AIG’s demise by making margin calls against AIG, for both the CDS deals and for deals it had done with Win Neuger, who was running AIG’s securities lending business. What really sank AIG was the fact that the downgrade of its credit rating permitted companies like Goldman to demand large sums of money from AIG in the form of these margin calls, and AIG could not get its hands on enough cash to meet its demands, resulting in the death spiral situation we all witnessed last September. Of all the firms making such demands against AIG, Goldman was the most aggressive (I have more on this coming out in a forthcoming book) and my sources who were involved in the AIG bailout bunker scene of a year ago almost to a man report that Goldman and its chief Lloyd Blankfein took an extremely hard line with AIG.

Why would it act like that? Well, in a normal capitalistic situation, it wouldn’t. But Goldman, it turned out, had an ace in the hole. It seems that when the state stepped in and decided to bail AIG out, its former director, Stephen Friedman, was among those making the decision that AIG’s counterparties should be paid 100 cents on the dollar for its CDS debts. It never made sense that AIG/AIGFP would decide on its own to pay its creditors 100 cents on the dollar for its debts, but now we know, thanks to reporting from Bloomberg, that it wasn’t AIGFP and its CFO Elias Habayeb who was making that decision.

It was, instead, a group of people from the New York Fed who gave that order a group that included Tim Geithner and Friedman. Goldman ended up getting almost $14 billion from AIG after the bailout. And Friedman, we later found out, bought 50,000 shares of Goldman stock after this deal was struck. He resigned in May from the Fed, a few days after the Wall Street Journal broke the story about Friedman’s stock purchases.

Friedman surely had information about key moves involving the bank — like Goldman getting paid off at par in the AIG bailout, or Goldman getting a federal bank charter overnight so that a mountain of cheap Fed money could save it from bankruptcy — before the market got it. That he bought 50,000 shares in Goldman after the AIG bailout and is not in jail right now is sort of amazing, until you consider that it will be a cold day in hell before a former head of Goldman Sachs is arrested for insider trading, even when he gets caught doing it red-handed.

All of this matters for two reasons. One, it’s yet another example of how Goldman’s success isn’t attributable to how “smart” the bank and its employees are.

Instead of working something out with a company it had stupidly become overexposed to, Goldman instead hastened AIG’s demise because it was, perhaps, the one way it could cash in fully on its reckless deals — by forcing it into the arms of the government and getting the taxpayer to pony up for Cassano’s dumb calls.

Had AIG proceeded to an ordinary bankruptcy, had the company’s downfall happened via normal market procedures, Goldman might have gotten 40, 50, maybe 60 cents on the dollar. If that! Instead it got completely paid off, among other things because its connections to the government actually incentivized it to cripple a company to which it was exposed to the tune of billions.

Second, the non-punishment of Friedman just stands out like a hairy, golf-ball-sized mole on the face of the American capital markets. No question about it, it’s interesting that Galleon and Raj Rajaratnam are getting perp-walked by the FBI (note that it’s the FBI, and not the castrated and seemingly completely captive SEC, that’s going to be pushing these enforcement actions). Galleon isn’t small potatoes and from what I understand there are other hedge funds with even higher profiles that may fall later on. These are surprising and meaningful moves and and it suggests that the enforcement community is not yet completely corrupted. But Goldman’s continued impunity leaves a mighty stink-cloud over American business, no matter how many Raj Rajaratnams get dragged off to jail."

Karl Denninger, "You Can't Possibly Be Serious (CRE)"

"You Can't Possibly Be Serious (CRE)"
by Karl Denninger

"I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."
- Will Rogers.

"I am speaking of the notion that went up the flagpole on allowing banks to refinance commercial real estate loans at more than 100% LTV - and having this "overlooked" by regulators. Oh, but they are! Regulators, in a significant step, also said they won't penalize banks for performing loans where the value of the underlying property is now worth less than the loan balance. Who did this?

The guidelines, released on Friday by agencies including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, provide guidance for bank examiners and financial institutions working with commercial property owners who are "experiencing diminished operating cash flows, depreciated collateral values, or prolonged delays in selling or renting commercial properties."

Their comment? "Financial institutions that implement prudent [commercial real estate] loan workout arrangements after performing a comprehensive review of a borrower's financial condition will not be subject to criticism for engaging in these efforts," the agencies said in a policy statement. One of the definitions of "prudent lending" is not to lend beyond the current value of a given asset, with any such "excess amount" requiring a dollar-for-dollar reserve of the bank's own capital. Of course the others are knowing that the borrower can pay, which they appear to be covering.

But just as in residential real estate when you lend in commercial real estate beyond asset value you're doomed, because it is not possible to have a reasonable expectation that the borrower will continue to perform! Why? Primarily because demanded rents cannot be maintained.

Take two strip malls across the street from one another. Both started with a "value" of $10 million. Both now have a "present value" of $5 million. Both are identical - in the same location, on opposite sides of the same road, both have the same square footage and amenities. One loan is foreclosed and the property sold - for $5 million. That buyer finances the $5 million purchase. The second is "worked out" instead of demanding that the borrower either be foreclosed or pony up the other $5m (which he doesn't have), and the bank rolls the note at a negative equity position of $5m.

What happens? Tenants start to go out of business. As space opens in the $5m note mall, those in the $10m note mall see the open space. So do potential new tenants. Is the rent in the $5m note property going to be higher or lower than the rent in the $10m note property? How many of the $10m note property spaces will be rented one, two, three or five years from now, compared to the $5m property? What is going to happen to that $10m loan?

This is an out-and-out scam that is simply going to end up costing the FDIC even more money, because the banks will be even further underwater when the note on that "worked out" property inevitably blows up. Every time I see the government come up with some hair-brained scheme that will (1) never work and (2) will explode in the taxpayer's face, I maintain that I've seen the dumbest thing yet. Unfortunately the FDIC and other regulators keep outdoing themselves."
- Karl Denninger,

"Huge Commercial Real Estate Crash Coming"

"Huge Commercial Real Estate Crash Coming"
by John Gittelsohn and Thomas R. Keene

"Billionaire investor Wilbur L. Ross Jr., said today the U.S. is in the beginning of a "huge crash in commercial real estate. All of the components of real estate value are going in the wrong direction simultaneously," said Ross, one of nine money managers participating in a government program to remove toxic assets from bank balance sheets. "Occupancy rates are going down. Rent rates are going down and the capitalization rate - the return that investors are demanding to buy a property - are going up."

U.S. commercial property sales are forecast to fall to the lowest in almost two decades as the industry endures its worst slump since the savings and loan crisis of the early 1990s, according to property research firm Real Capital Analytics Inc. The Moody's/REAL Commercial Property Price Indices already have fallen almost 41 percent since October 2007, Moody's Investors Service said Oct. 19.

Billionaire George Soros, speaking today at a lecture organized by the Central European University in Budapest, said a "bloodletting" may be coming for leveraged buyouts and commercial real estate. "The American consumer will no longer be able to serve as the motor for the world economy," said Soros, 79. His comments came in the same week that Capmark Financial Group Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after originating $60 billion in commercial property loans in 2006 and 2007.

Ross, the 71-year-old chairman and chief executive officer of WL Ross & Co. LLC, said in an interview on Bloomberg Radio that he would use "extreme caution" before putting money into commercial real estate, especially office space, because properties are losing tenants. U.S. office vacancies hit a five-year high of almost 17 percent in the third quarter, while shopping center vacancies climbed to their highest since 1992, according to the property research firm Reis Inc. "I think it's going to take quite a while to work itself out," Ross said.

As of Oct. 15, Ross said he had spent less than $100 million of at least $1.5 billion available to him under the Public-Private Investment Program, an investment pool of private and government money for purchasing distressed assets from financial institutions. Ross used the funds he spent so far to purchase residential mortgage-backed securities, he said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

WL Ross was among a group of firms that agreed Oct. 6 to buy $4.5 billion of Corus Bankshares Inc.'s real estate. Starwood Capital Group LLC and TPG led the group to buy the assets of the Chicago-based lender, which was seized by federal regulators Sept. 11 after its investments in construction loans for condominiums went bad.

In 2007, Ross ventured into the declining residential property market, winning an auction for the home-loan servicing unit of Melville, New York-based American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. He agreed to pay between $435 million and $500 million for the right to collect payments and maintain escrow on about $45.3 billion of home mortgages.

Dubbed the King of Bankruptcy by clients during his quarter century at the Rothschild investment bank, Ross entered the U.S. home mortgage business as an increasing number of borrowers quit making payments and profits sank in loan servicing. "Our methodology is to make a great big list: What's every thing we can think of that's either wrong with the industry or that we just plain don't like about it," Ross said today. "Then we start work on another list. If we had control of this industry, what would we do to fix each one of those problems?" he said. "Once we feel that there is a reasonable likelihood that the second chart kind of equals the first chart, that's when we get ready to do something."

The Economy: Bill Bonner, "Kiss of Debt"

"Kiss of Debt"
By Bill Bonner

"So in some ways it is human nature to be in denial ...
but Americans have our own special version."
- Naomi Wolf

"Regular readers of this space will recognize this as the third in a series. Irregular readers will not recognize it at all. They will look at us as though we had come from Mars. Earthlings are all convinced that a financial crisis of cosmic proportions befell the planet last fall. Had the authorities failed to act with determination and speed, it would have been the end of the world. In the popular mind the politicians have saved capitalism from its own excesses.

Our views are different, but not extra-terrestrial. Once upon a time, not so long ago, they were even respectable. The gist of our message two weeks ago was that debt is dangerous. It feels good at first. But give a society too much debt – either in its private sector or the public sphere – and someone’s going to get killed. That’s why the present situation is such a delight to serious economists; it offers more data points. We get to see how much straw the feds can add before the poor camel’s back breaks.

What’s the best way to get through a debt crisis? Straight through was our advice last week. For at least a thousand years, the business cycle went round and round without help from central bankers or economists. It is only since these geniuses have been on the case that really serious problems have arisen. The Panic of 1920 – in which the US government did nothing but cut taxes and spending – was quickly forgotten. The Panic of 1929, on the other hand, was followed by massive rigging and jiving by the authorities. It took 20 years and a world war to overcome; today it is still remembered today as the Great Depression.

Martin Wolf, speaking, gravely, for the world’s intelligentsia in "The Financial Times" last week, proclaimed that: “the only thing worse than rescuing the system would have been not rescuing it.” But he is wrong; of all the many blessings economists may bestow upon a grateful people, improving the economy is not one of them. An economy is a natural thing. It can be improved by the striving of entrepreneurs, the prudence of bankers, and the sweating of field hands. But when it comes to the macro-economic policy, forbearance is the quality that pays. Any initiative on the feds’ part inevitably makes things worse.

The Bubble Era, like the Great Depression, was largely –but not completely – the result of government initiative. Artificially low interest rates – intended to counter the modest downturn of 2001 – sent the wrong message. Consumers – notably those in Britain and America – bought things they couldn’t afford. Producers – notably those in Asia – made things for which there was no real market. Debt piled up. Mountains of it.

As consumers bought more and producers made more the economy grew. But much of the economic “growth” of the 2001-2007 period was fraudulent. It was based on debt spending, not on genuine increases in purchasing power. Debt pretends to be real money. It looks like the real thing, but it is not. It stimulates the economy like counterfeit money. It causes production and consumption, but of the wrong sort. Former Reagan era Office of Management and Budget director David Stockman estimates the level of “counterfeit GDP” at $4 trillion in the US alone.

The fraud was discovered, though misunderstood, when sub-prime debt began to implode. The economy had been kissed hard; millions of houses had been built, bought and sold. Now, owners couldn’t pay for them. All of sudden, the counterfeit money began to shrivel up. Lenders, investors, and householders all began to de-leverage; paying down the debts as fast as they could, defaulting on those they couldn’t.

Rather than come to the obvious conclusion, that they should never have meddled with the economy in the first place, the feds began rescue operations on a breathtaking scale. The British government increased spending to 140% of revenues. America now runs a stimulus program nearly equivalent, in economic impact, to WWII. Not since 1945 have the two pages of its ledgers – debits and credits – told such different stories, with almost $2 of spending for ever $1 in tax receipts. Britain will add almost 50% to its government debt in the next three years. David Stockman expects the publicly held US national debt to almost double in the next five years.

Even at those levels, many economists think the government should do more. Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman is one. Richard Koo is another. They’ve warned that the US (and by extension much of the rest of the world) could suffer a Lost Decade, like Japan, if the government slacks off before consumers have finished de-leveraging. At least they understand what is going on. Too bad they missed the point of it. The problem is too much debt, not too little spending. Leveraging up the public sector doesn’t help. Even government debts must be paid – if not by the borrower, then by the lender. The feds are smooching more ardently than any debt lover in history; next, we get to see who dies…or at least who defaults."

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Daily "Near You?"

Aurora, Illinois, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The earth laughs in flowers."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lucid Dreaming: Jason Bellows, "Silent Lucidity"

"Silent Lucidity"
by Jason Bellows

"There was a time that I could fly. I jutted my right fist into the air, and launched into the sky. My stomach dropped with the sensation of breaking gravity’s bond, and the summer air cooled as I reached higher. When the roads were so far below as to be an indistinct ashen blur, I halted and curled my legs under me as I was pelted by icy crystals of clouds, and surveyed all below. There was a moment of idle indecision, but in the end it mattered not at all. I picked a direction and dove.

The experience was one of my many brushes with Lucid Dreaming. It is a phenomenon that many discredit, naming it a hoax and naturalist mythology despite the fact that it has strong scientific evidence supporting it as a real occurrence. With a devoted training regimen, most anyone can learn to harness their own subconscious to experience surrealistic events and places. In a controlled dream, one can pursue anything from the cessation of nightmares, to investigating problems, to engaging in sexual fantasies, to my personal choice—jetting around the skies like Superman.

A lucid dream is one wherein the dreamer is aware they are dreaming without waking up, allowing them to deliberately participate in the dream’s events. Despite the stigma of being a new age fantasy, there is a historical record of lucid dreams dating back to the 5th century. In the year 415 AD Saint Augustine, a Christian priest and philosopher, wrote of the dream of a man who was preoccupied with concerns of the afterlife and what it was like. This man, Gennadius, dreamed that he was visited by a youth “of remarkable appearance and commanding presence”. Gennadius followed the person, and was taken to a site that rang of singing that was “so exquisitely sweet” that it surpassed any in his experience. St Augustine of HippoGennadius woke, and figured the experience for merely a dream, possibly caused by indigestion.

The very next night, however, Gennadius dreamed again, and was again visited by the (apparently) androgynous young guide. The guide asked if he was remembered, to which Gennadius replied “Certainly!” The young guide then asked Gennadius if their meeting had occurred in sleep or in wakefulness, and Gennadius replied, “In sleep.” His guide told him, “You remember it well; it is true that you saw these things in sleep, but I would have you know that even now you are seeing in sleep.” The guide continued, “Where is your body now?” And Gennadius answered “in my bed.”

Gennadius was therefore lucid—aware that he was indeed dreaming, though there is no hint that he was controlling the dream. Even without asserting his will on the dream state, Gennadius found answers to the problems plaguing his mind, and was satisfied with what he learned.

The eighth century saw the rise of the monastic order that devised "The Tibetan Book of the Dead." Some maintain that this group knew more about dreams and controlling them than we do today, but if that is the case, their book is woefully incomplete. The book describes that when one dies, he will face experiences that result from his “inner manifestations”–things akin to dreams. When one is faced with these experiences, to know that they are dreamlike grants the deceased an advantage in reaching enlightenment, and thus, hopefully, avoids rebirth. To aid in this end, the monks developed a form of Yoga to help in understanding the death or dream phenomenon.

In 1867 a popular scientist named Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys published his book "Dreams and How to Guide Them," effectively demonstrating how anyone could learn the skills of lucid and controlled dreaming—though that moniker didn’t emerge until 1912.

One of our era’s most popular discourses on lucid dreaming comes from the books by Jane Roberts, who created a series of books collectively titled "The Seth Material", it was created when Jane channeled a spirit named Seth, who spent his time returned to the corporeal world lecturing on dreams and death. There seems little wonder that lucid dreaming has been labeled hopelessly new-agey. Save for the work of Stephen LaBerge, the phenomenon of lucid dreams may have been condemned to remain in obscurity.

It was the year 1980 when LaBerge received his PhD in Psychophysiology from Stanford, but his interest in dreams and altered states of consciousness began in his childhood. LaBerge had some lucid dreams of his own, and found it to be an interesting experience. Armed with the knowledge that when a person dreams of a ping-pong game, his eyes will trace back and forth as if watching the ball, LaBerge went to sleep, and allocated the actual work to his trusty research assistant. Before LaBerge began his doze, however, he and the assistant agreed on a signal that LaBerge would convey with his eyes. The research assistant observed LaBerge’s sleep, and verified that he had indeed entered a dream state, and then awaited the agreed upon signal. After receiving the signal and having the polygraph record it a number of times, LaBerge took his results to the academic world. At first there was general resistance to his theories. One fellow scientist said “there is no evidence that would make me believe [in lucid dreams].” After noting the scientific irony in that statement, however, resistance slowly diminished, and experiments reproduced the same results around the country and the world.

Most everyone’s had that one dream they want to go back to. Those who are aware of their dreams can avoid nightmares, and those who control their dreams can do most anything. Participants in scientific studies report an enhanced sense of accomplishment and general betterment of mood. Some even call it life-changing.

There are several techniques that one can employ to achieve lucid or controlled dreaming, but broken down, there are really two basic schools. Both require one to be able to recall his dreams fairly well, and in both cases children take to it easier than their adult counterparts. The first is analogous to making a “controlled entry” into the dream, and is called the WILD (wake-initiated lucid dream) method. In this technique one approaches dreams from a meditative state, and tries to hold to lucidity while slipping into the realms of the unconscious. Most agree that this method is both more difficult and more frightening; it is not uncommon to have feelings of floating above one’s own body or sinking into the black depths of the mattress. There can be bursts of vertigo or dizziness, and can seem somewhat akin to descriptions of

The more widely accepted method is to come at the dream from the other end—to engulf one’s self in the dream, then try to gain lucidity. This is done through the use of “reality checks”, and is called the MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) method. Dreams diverge from reality in many ways, and many of them are fairly predictable. One must get into habits in waking life that would highlight such differences. If one gets into the habit of checking his watch twice in quick succession, in the waking world the time will be the same, whereas in dreams the time will generally be radically different. Some pinch their noses and try to breathe through it; the flesh nose will be unable to, but the dream nose can breathe unhindered. The trick I made use of in my experiments was to several times a day ask: “am I dreaming now?” On the rare occasion that I decided I was dreaming, I would immediately take to the sky.

Some worry that there are dangers inherent to lucid dreaming, though there are none evident. One can avoid unwanted dreams, practice that dreaded speech in a mental crowd, or play the guitar like a god, among other things. Despite the axiom that “one who dies in a dream dies in true life,” there’s nothing to fear—if everyone who died in their dreams never awoke, who would there be to deliver these warnings to us?"

"This Is Your Brain On Fatty Acids"

"This Is Your Brain On Fatty Acids"
by Maryalice Yakutchik

"Saturated fats have a deservedly bad reputation, but Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered that a sticky lipid occurring naturally at high levels in the brain may help us memorize grandma's recipe for cinnamon buns, as well as recall how, decades ago, she served them up steaming from the oven.

The Hopkins team, reporting Oct. 29 in "Neuron," reveals how palmitate, a fatty acid, marks certain brain proteins – NMDA receptors – that need to be activated for long-term memory and learning to take place. The fatty substance directs the receptors to specific locations in the outer membrane of brain cells, which continually strengthen and weaken their connections with each other, sculpting and resculpting new memory circuits.

Moreover, the researchers report, this fatty modification is a reversible process, with some sort of on-off switch, offering possibilities for manipulating it to enhance or even, perhaps, erase memory. "Before now, no one knew that NMDA receptors change in response to the addition of palmitate," says Richard Huganir, Ph.D., professor and director of the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins.

Scientists have known that a brain signaling chemical called glutamate normally activates NMDA receptors, allowing two neurons to communicate with one another. However, they were less certain what allowed this receptor to assemble properly, or what caused it to make its way to the synapse, the specialized part of nerve cells where communication takes place. The discovery emerged from work with live neurons in a dish, to which the scientists first fed radioactive palmitate, then separated out the NMDA receptors. By tracking radioactivity on X-ray film, they were able to determine that the fat had attached to the NMDA receptors. Next, the scientists put both normal and altered NMDA receptors into non-brain cells that don't normally manufacture their own NMDA receptors. By tracking the radioactive fat, they were able to determine where on the NMDA receptor the fat had attached.

Results showed that the NMDA receptor undergoes "dual palmitoylation," in two different regions, each of which plays a distinct role in controlling the fate of the receptor in neurons. When the fat attaches to the first region, it stabilizes the receptor on the surface of neurons. When the fat attaches to the second region, the receptors accumulate inside neurons, perhaps awaiting a signal to send them to synapses. The researchers suspect that this could be part of a quality control measure, assuring that all the Lego-like protein subunits of the receptor are put together properly. "It is rapidly becoming clear that palmitate regulates not only NMDA receptors, but also other brain proteins at work during signaling across synapses," says Gareth Thomas, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral fellow at Hopkins.

The researchers suspect that if palmitoylation fails, the result would be learning and memory impairment because if NMDA receptors don't make their way to the synapses – the specialized contact points between cells across which chemical messages flow – then communication between neurons is compromised. "This new modification of the NMDA receptor deepens our molecular understanding of how synapses are regulated and how memories might be formed. It also reveals new potential drug targets, such as the enzymes that add or remove the palmitate," Huganir says. "If we could shift the balance of the palmitoylation, then perhaps we could affect and enhance learning and memory."

Authors on the paper are Takashi Hayashi, Gareth Thomas and Richard Huganir of Johns Hopkins.
Maryalice Yakutchik,

Alexandre Dumas

"How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid?
It must be education that does it."
- Alexandre Dumas

What is "The Legatum Prosperity Index?"

"The Legatum Prosperity Index"

"The Legatum Institute is an independent research, policy, and advocacy organisation that promotes political, economic and individual liberty in the developing and transitioning world. The Institute undertakes original and collaborative research, publishes scholarly literature and popular distillations, and cultivates a distinguished group of advisors and fellows. It develops innovative ways to disseminate its ideas and analyses, and to test and implement its findings.

"The Legatum Prosperity Index" is the world’s only global assessment of wealth and wellbeing; unlike other studies that rank countries by actual levels of wealth, life satisfaction or development, the Prosperity Index produces rankings based upon the very foundations of prosperity – those factors that help drive economic growth and produce happy citizens over the long term."

"How It Really Is"

"Federal Pay Continues to Skyrocket"

"Federal Pay Continues to Skyrocket"
by the Daily Bail Blog

"In 2008 the average federal worker earned twice that of his private-industry counterpart in wages and benefits: $120,000 per year versus $60,000. Check out the difference in slope of the two lines. Yowza. Federal pay and benefits are up 58% since 2000 compared to just 28% in the private sector.
Of course, when you consider the massive productivity advantage government workers enjoy over their private counterparts, it all makes sense. WTF? Well, it's all the Democrats fault undoubtedly. Wait, looks like it was Bush. The George W. Bush years were very lucrative for federal workers. In 2000, the average compensation (wages and benefits) of federal workers was 66 percent higher than the average compensation in the U.S. private sector. The new data show that average federal compensation is now more than double the average in the private sector.

If you drive through Northern Virginia, you will find nearly entire neighborhoods of $500,000 to $900,000 homes owned by government workers or contractors. Then you can drive five streets over and find $200,000 to $400,000 homes owned by those who pay the salaries for those government employees. It’s a fascinating distribution of wealth. Most government employees and contractors could not earn more than $60,000 on the free market. Their only chance to make that kind of money comes from having an employer that not only never has to make a profit but can forcibly take money through taxation.

The answer is that both are deeply to blame. Don't be fooled. There's nary a difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to growth of government. Both parties are completely, sadistically, out of control. There is NO spending restraint on either side of the aisle, just hot air, promises, and purple unicorns. Oh and bubbles."

Karl Denninger, "Another Bad Economic Report (PCI/Spend)"

"Another Bad Economic Report (PCI/Spend)"
by Karl Denninger

"How do you get "economic recovery" out of these numbers? Personal income decreased $0.1 billion, or less than 0.1 percent, and disposable personal income (DPI) decreased $0.2 billion, or less than 0.1 percent, in September, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) decreased $47.2 billion, or 0.5 percent.

That looks like flat income and down spending to me. Oh wait - we have to read past the first two sentences, right? Let's do that.

Private wage and salary disbursements decreased $11.2 billion in September, in contrast to an increase of $10.1 billion in August. Goods-producing industries' payrolls decreased $7.8 billion, compared with a decrease of $6.3 billion; manufacturing payrolls decreased $1.5 billion, compared with a decrease of $4.1 billion. Services-producing industries' payrolls decreased $3.4 billion, in contrast to an increase of $16.4 billion.

Wait a minute. I thought that income was flat? We have a decrease, a decrease, a decrease and a decrease. How do we get to flat with those?

Supplements to wages and salaries increased $0.1 billion in September, compared with an increase of $2.0 billion in August. Proprietors' income increased $0.7 billion in September, compared with an increase of $3.4 billion in August. Farm proprietors' income decreased $1.6 billion, compared with a decrease of $1.2 billion. Nonfarm proprietors' income increased $2.3 billion, compared with an increase of $4.6 billion.

Rental income of persons increased $5.4 billion in September, compared with an increase of $5.2 billion in August. Personal income receipts on assets (personal interest income plus personal dividend income) decreased $13.8 billion, the same decrease as in August. Personal current transfer receipts increased $17.3 billion in September, compared with an increase of $9.6 billion in August. Ah. Small business income was down compared to August, rental incomes were basically flat (compared to prior month), but income receipts on assets (dividends + interest on assets) decreased. Those are bad comps too.

The big Kahuna was government handouts, which was up big m/o/m. There's the entry that kept PCI and DPI from collapsing. Real PCE - PCE adjusted to remove price changes - decreased 0.6 percent in September, in contrast to an increase of 1.0 percent in August. Consumers are not spending. All in all, another bad report. Not a disaster, but certainly not the stuff of which "economic recovery" is made. The evidence continues to pile up..."

"Bankers Expect Rising Bonus Pay to Break Records"

"Bankers Expect Rising Bonus Pay to Break Records"
By Robert Schmidt and Ian Katz
"In Washington and on Main Street, politicians and voters are railing against Wall Street’s multi- million-dollar pay packages. In the financial world, most executives expect their bonuses to match or exceed last year’s, with 1 in 10 predicting their best-ever payout.

Having shaken off the biggest economic decline since the 1930s, almost three in five traders, analysts and fund managers believe their 2009 bonuses will either increase or won’t change, according to a quarterly poll of Bloomberg customers. Only one in four see a decline. Asians are the most optimistic about pay and Americans and Europeans somewhat less so. “The large banks are knocking the cover off the ball,” said Daniel Alpert, managing director of New York-based investment bank Westwood Capital LLC. The industry is “making money, though with government help.” Worldwide, a majority of market professionals in the survey also turn thumbs down on government attempts to limit compensation, with 51 percent saying restrictions will stifle useful innovation. Only about 38 percent think pay limits will control excessive risk-taking.

In the U.S., where President Barack Obama has chided Wall Street for being “motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses,” 65 percent say the restrictions will damp innovation. The Bloomberg Global Poll of investors and analysts in six continents was conducted Oct. 23-27. It is based on interviews with a random sample of 1,452 Bloomberg subscribers, representing decision makers in markets, finance and economics. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

“If we were looking for a sense of Wall Street to be, ‘we’re hit hard, I’m going to make less money,’ these results don’t show it,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., the Des Moines, Iowa-based public-opinion research firm that conducted the survey. The findings “give some fuel to the people who claim that Wall Street hasn’t really gotten it,” said Mark Borges, a compensation consultant at Compensia Inc. in Corte Madera, California. “There really hasn’t been a dramatic cultural shift in these organizations.”

The survey responses are at odds with populist outrage unleashed when American International Group Inc. earlier this year paid bonuses to the financial products unit responsible for the derivatives trades that fueled $100 billion in 2008 losses and led to a $182 billion taxpayer bailout. In an ABC News/Washington Post survey earlier this month, 71 percent backed the Obama administration’s plans to order deep cuts in executive pay at bailed-out companies.

The Bloomberg poll results track the stronger economic outlook and bullish global stock markets. The MSCI AC World Index of emerging and developed markets has risen by 64 percent since reaching a low in March. The S&P 500 Index has gained 58 percent during that time. The survey results also reflect the improved business climate for financial companies after last year’s near collapse of the credit markets. Profits at the biggest banks, like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., have soared this year.

While 30 percent of those polled in the U.S. say they believe their 2009 bonus will be higher than last year, non-U.S. respondents were even more optimistic, with 39 percent of Asians and 33 percent of Europeans expecting a fatter bonus this year. The finance industry’s anger at political meddling in compensation is strongest in the U.S., where the administration has named a special master to approve compensation packages at seven firms that have needed exceptional bailouts from the government. Last week, the paymaster, Kenneth Feinberg, announced he had ordered total compensation cuts averaging 50 percent for 136 people at the companies he oversees. That same day, the Federal Reserve proposed new guidelines for bankers’ pay.

Leaders of the Group of 20 nations in September approved guidelines for financial firms that call for deferred bonuses for senior executives and permit pay to be clawed back if a company has losses later. Only 27 percent of U.S. respondents think pay limits will control excessive risk-taking, as opposed to the 65 percent who say such moves will discourage innovation. “I don’t think it’s the government’s place to interfere or set limits or regulations on executive pay,” said Chris Gurkovic, chief market strategist at Deltatide Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey. “If someone is going to take the risk they should be compensated for it.” Non-U.S. respondents are less dismissive of executive pay limits, with almost half of Europeans saying such constraints will help control financial risk-taking. Still, 41 percent of Europeans, along with 47 percent of Asians, agree pay limits will discourage innovation."
To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Schmidt in Washington at;
Ian Katz in Washington at;